Food & Fitness, Food Facts & Lore

Taste Buds 101… Almost

The tongue is not the only part of your mouth that has taste buds. These are present on the roof of your mouth; more precisely on the area toward the back, called the soft palate. The epiglottis is covered with taste buds as well. This is the little dangling thingamajig you see in the mouths of cartoons characters when they scream.

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Taste buds must come in contact with food or beverages in order to taste them. No news here. This is why they are called chemo-receptors. They come in contact with the chemical components in foods and liquids that trigger and electrical transmission to the brain, where they are interpreted. This happens at astronomical speed, of course, so that we identify taste in our mouths when in truth it is the brain that is doing the tasting.

While taste buds need direct contact to provide the sensation of taste, you might be interested to know that the sense of smell does not require this proximity. For this reason, it is known as a distance chemo-receptor.

Then there is your imagination, which draws from you memory banks the moment you imagine a fresh pizza coming out of the oven with your favorite toppings and the sauce and cheese are just right and it feels warm in the box and you can hardly wait to open the box and hope that the guy behind the counter, yes, that guy there we call Bruce at JPD and who makes one pizza after another and you don’t know how he can stand working there with all that food and smelling pizza all night and not gain an ounce of weight and where were we? Ho yes, you imagine opening the box and you can already taste that first bite, except that you can’t actually taste it because you have not touched it yet since you’re just imagining it and you hope that Bruce made a mistake and accidentally sliced the pizza a bit off-center so that there are a couple of pieces that are larger and your keen eye will spot those while your girlfriend or boyfriend is distracted (look over there!) and you will finally take a first bite and then another and there is no stopping you, only you did not actually start because we’re still just talking about your imagination and you have not even touched that pizza yet, but you can already taste it. Perfect Pavlov moment… and a topic for another post perhaps.

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Taste buds can detect five different tastes: bitter, sour, salty, sweet and, the most subtle of all,  savory. The reason we favor certain tastes is not merely a matter of preference. Taste buds are not designed for pleasure only; they also detect poison or harmful substances. This is the reason why bitter and sour foods make us frown and think twice. In nature, thousands of years ago, lifting your nose at a sour berry or bitter morsel could save your life.

Then, there is flavor, which is not the same as taste. Taste is linked directly to those chemo-receptors mentioned above. The sensation we associate with flavor relies on taste and aroma, the mouth and the nose. Flavor is influenced by texture and temperature also. Think of an anchovy. It tastes very salty, but consider the experience of biting into one, beyond the saltiness, and you are now thinking about its flavor. If you do not like anchovies (in fact, you despise them, thank you very much), we apologize for the analogy and promise never to do it again, maybe. You must admit it made a point, no?

When we eat or drink, food and liquid molecules mix with saliva and enter a pore on the end of taste buds. There, receptor cells send an electrical impulse through the nervous system to the part of the brain that interprets taste. It is far more complex than this, of course, but who wants to listen to a long lecture about taste buds when dinner is ready?!

Give your taste buds a feast:

JPD Menu

Valentine’s Dinner Menu

Learn More:


How Stuff Works

While you’re here, see Table Talk #11

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